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Congratulations to our five finalists for The Festival of Voice 2020 which this year we will hold in Belfast due to the current COVID 19 restrictions.
This year’s finalists are David Corr (baritone) from Dublin; David Howes (bass-baritone) from County Clare; Andrew Irwin (tenor) from County Fermanagh; Sarah Luttrell (mezzo soprano) from County Laois and Jade Phoenix (soprano) from County Wicklow.
These five singers will have the opportunity to work with prestigious vocal coaches in the build-up to the Competition Finale on Sunday 30th August, where they will sing arias, duets and Irish songs in front of a panel of opera experts, hosted by our Patron, Sean Rafferty and compete for the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize to become the Northern Ireland Opera Voice of 2020.
The Competition Finale will be filmed and broadcast via our YouTube channel: information will be provided for this online event nearer the Festival date along with details on how we will announce the winner of the Deborah Voigt Opera Prize and judge the Audience Prize.
The Festival of Voice takes place annually in partnership with BBC Radio 3, usually in the beautiful coastal village of Glenarm. This year’s recitals will feature Ailish Tynan (soprano),Anna Huntley (mezzo soprano), James Newby (baritone) and Simon Lepper (piano) and will be recorded in Belfast. As in previous years, these performances will then be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 later in the year.
2020’s theme for the Festival of Voice is Myths and Legends and while we are disappointed that at this stage it does not look as if we will be able to have a live audience, we will be releasing all information about when you will be able to hear the BBC Radio 3 performances and watch the Competition Finale online in the next few weeks.
For more information about the Festival, click here.
Link to watch the production here. Trailer for production here.
This week’s Opera Club is a ‘Discovery’, from Teatr Wielki in Poznan. For much of the last 200 years, Poland was subjected to the power struggles of its neighbouring empires, suffered multiple losses of its national state and saw its cultural heritage attacked and instrumentalised in turn.
During the European Romanticism of the 19th century, Poland saw the emergence of an artist movement preoccupied with questions about nationhood, national character, and suffering. One of its most prolific exponents was Juliusz Słowacki – now remembered as one of Poland’s national bards, primarily for his prose poem ‘Anhelli’. Written in 1837, only a few years after the failed uprising against the Russian oppressor in 1830, ‘Anhelli’ captured motifs of exile and martyrdom in a story about a pilgrimage through hostile Siberia as the antithesis to an imagined safe homeland Poland. Its protagonist, a boy named Anhelli is chosen by the Shaman as the redeemer of the Polish people – together they embark on a journey through wintery wasteland and places of abject demoralisation.
Loosely based on Słowacki’s text, composer Dariusz Przybylski, director Margo Zālīte and designer Dorota Karolszak create an exhilarating opera installation that focuses in on the original’s elements of wandering on the one hand (the performance begins in the foyer, and the divide between auditorium and stage is broken up, with musicians performing form the balconies and the stage spilling into the audience), and a longing for an unspoilt, utopian homeland on the other. Tying in with the latter, the staging concept included an innovative, sustainable approach: Karolczak’s stunning costumes and sets are made entirely from recycled materials based on the idea of zero waste theatre. As part of the social project, citizens brought in unwanted items, and the set and costumes were created using these materials. You can see some behind the scenes images of the costume-making process here: ANHELLI _ DK
Dorota Karolczak has worked with Northern Ireland Opera as set designer for two of our co-productions at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, The Threepenny Opera and Sweeney Todd for which she was nominated for an Irish Times Irish Theatre Award.
To see all our Opera Club recommendations to date, click here.
The Grange Festival. Click here to view the opera.
It might be an opera “discovery” for many of us today, but in its time, Handel’s early opera Agrippina positively established the composer’s international success. Written for Italy, it provoked a veritable opera sensation after its Venice premiere in 1709, running for a proud 27 nights. In the following years, Handel was to move permanently to England, where he swiftly secured a commission to write his first opera for London, Rinaldo, and embarked on a greatly successful career as an opera composer.
Agrippina’s enthusiastic reception was arguably aided by its fine libretto, written by Vincenzo Grimani. He delivered a gripping political drama revolving around the power-hungry Roman – wife of emperor Claudio – who coerces her son Nerone into unwittingly acting as his mother’s puppet on her way to the throne.
In a complex web of intrigue, Agrippina is characterised as cunningly using the weaknesses of the men around her to set the path towards control of the Empire, not even halting to play games with her closest trustees. Upon the unexpected return of Emperor Claudio, Agrippina plots the downfall of both her husband and the man who saved his life and has in return been made heir to the throne: Ottone. She does so by exploits the young and beautiful Poppea, who is pursued by Claudio, Nerone and Ottone, and – again unwittingly – becomes entangled in the struggles for political influence and romantic/erotic conquest. Just as Agrippina’s plan appears to come to fruition, the trust and affection between Poppea and Ottone is installed. Things begin to unravel for the powerful and greedy. With each character following their own agenda, hardly anyone in this narrative could be described as innocent – except Ottone, who is saved by purity of heart, and rewarded amply.
In his composition, Handel drew on some of the best music he had written for earlier engagements, for example Rodrigo, the oratorio La resurrezione and his dramatic Italian cantatas. Agrippina’s arias (“L’alma mia fra le tempese” and “Pensieri, voi mi tormentate”) are as virtuosic as they a dramatic, on the other end of the spectrum, Handel presents moments of wonderful lyricism, notably in the elegantly orchestrated “Vaghe fonti”, sung by Ottone.
The 2018 production at The Grange Festival features Anna Bonitatibus as a very strong (both vocally and dramatically) Agrippina, alongside stand-out countertenors Raffaele Pe as Nerone (who is most typically sung by a mezzo) and Christopher Ainslie as Ottone. Stefanie True is a playful and vocally bright Poppea. Robert Howarth conducts the Academy of Ancient Music; the production was directed by Northern Ireland Opera’s former Artistic Director Walter Sutcliffe, the designer was Jon Bausor, who recently designed the set for our co-production at the Lyric Theatre, Kiss Me, Kate.
For previous recommendations for our online opera club, please click here.
This week’s opera recommendation sits somewhere between our categories of “classic” and “discovery”. Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is played regularly in opera houses around the world, especially those with sufficient financial and technical means, however, you would hardly call it a core repertoire classic piece. For one, the opera makes considerable demands on its performers – both vocally and physically – not to mention psychologically.
Its main character is Katerina L’vovna Izmaylova, wife of a provincial merchant, who feels entrapped in the numbing boredom and purposelessness of her own life, and whose self-abandoned leap into an emotionally-unleashed affair is the starting point of an unravelling tragedy. As the basis of their libretto, Shostakovich and his co-writer Alexander Preys used a short story about a murderous wife by Nikolay Leskov, with one crucial difference: the opera’s Katerina is a much more sympathetic figure, whose crimes seem justifiable in circumstances she experiences – the humiliations of her father in law, the ignorance and violence of her husband, the judgement of the workers at the mill.
Less cold-blooded than in the story, Katerina acts out of despair, when her emotional blossoming in the relationship with Sergey is punished. With its open handling of sexuality and its graphic murder scenes, the opera has a remarkable “verismo” approach, but it wasn’t as well suited to appraise the Soviet state as some had hoped. While Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was an instant critical and popular success after its premiere in January 1934, Stalin was not so impressed when he joined the audience to see the revised version two years later. His entourage famously left the performance before the fourth and final act, and instigated an open attack on the piece in the press, which accused the composer of producing “muddle instead of music”.
Judge for yourself in this intense, crass, but entirely convincing production by Martin Kušej’s at the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, with an outstanding Eva-Maria Westbroek as Katerina, and Mariss Jansons conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra in a musically-compelling performance from 2006.
See all our previous Opera Club recommendations here.